GD Speaks, Journal, Life-Saving Tips

A ‘Happy New You’ Letter

Flickr Lel4nd #3Most Dearest Friend,

Welcome to 2014. Or as the Mayans called it: “Extra Time” 🙂

We didn’t speak as often in 2013 as we would have liked. When we did, we often danced around what was immediate rather than what was important… and it was fun too! But today, I thought I’d write you a letter about that other stuff – the big, unspoken, sometimes scary stuff.

You know, we’ve been reading in the news about hundreds of natural disasters in 2013. But not one newspaper is reporting headlines about the inner cataclysms that are happening on the planet.

People all over the world are sensing earthquake-like shifts in their old values and being swept off secure life-paths. You may have sensed it as a growing disorientation about who you really are and what the hell you are supposed to do. It’s happening quietly, of course, so even you may not have joined the dots. You may have tried to shrug it off as bad luck, or a passing phase or just one of those days/months/years, and I thought it’s important for me to write to you that it’s not. And even more importantly – that you are not alone in this.

What’s really happening, I am told, is that the old structure we defined as ‘me’ –along with its drives, desires and dreams – is dismantling. The visible signs, according to many, many spiritual guides are quite distinct. See if some of them sound like what you have been trying to keep secret from your ‘normal’ friends.

Some lifelong relationships have been feeling fake and outdated. There is a sense of inexplicable inner sadness, sometimes punctuated by episodes of crying. Strange body aches and pains are experienced – and more tiredness than before. You feel lonely, even in the company of others. For some, a sudden change of job or career seems important, for others, there is a loss of passion to do anything. There is restlessness for something new to show up which will make sense of all this. Often, you feel safer staying aloof in a personal storm-shelter (aka bedroom) till clarity appears. (One of the reasons we didn’t meet so often in 2013…so I understand!)

Of course, in reality this shift is not a disaster but a blessing. From what I hear in the words of many spiritual guides, channels and teachers: the world is changing, you are changing, and the new paradigm of consciousness is evolving. Big words, I know, but to put it simply for a Mac-lover like you, you are moving to a new advanced iOS. Your system needs time to slow down, shut down and reboot. And while it may not seem like it right now, but after those little bug fixes, it’s all going to be way cooler and more intuitive. And I can say that with some certainty because I have seen up close the way people like GD function.

What’s worth remembering, he says, is that the disaster-like fallout is only as painful as the attachment to one’s old paradigm. Holding on is the only suffering. And there are simple things you can do to smoothen the path ahead.

For one, honor your changing mind-body system. Befriend your body. Become aware of your changing food preferences: food quantities, timings and even the kinds of food you like will undergo a change. As you become more sensitive to your energy, spend time in nature and ground your energy more often. Catharsis, forgiveness, or meditation – whatever you do to empty your past will only help.

Two, learn the art of honoring the impulse in this moment… and then the next and then the next. Like learning to skate, it just takes a bit of practice to get one’s balance. But once you do, you are guided speedily towards events, circumstances and people for your highest good. The old adage ‘Let Go & Let God’ is the single best piece of advice anyone can give you at this point.

One really strange thing that I must point out is that the old ‘me’ does not get replaced by a new ‘me’ – it just gets gradually melted in the Now. I suppose some day we will come to a point where we live so dissolved in the moment that there is no one to ask ‘am-I-there-yet’.

Until then, be cool, my friend. This is an unsettling period – don’t take it personally. You have not done anything wrong and you are not being punished. You are not weird – okay, you are weird but that’s exactly what’s super-cool about you. In the meantime, it’s a great idea to keep in touch with positive, like-minded, weird people (…like me!). So let’s connect more often in 2014.

Wish you a happy new you.

Love,

Me

PS: Enclosing an old cartoon to remind you of this conversation and make you smile whenever you’re feeling a bit down. Keep shining 🙂

The Winds of Change

Journal, Life-Saving Tips

Bill Watterson’s Advice On Creating the Soul-Fulfilling Life

Bill Watterson, I find, is a rare human being. He created the modern classic ‘Calvin & Hobbes‘ but fought bitterly against licensing and merchandising his characters, sacrificing millions of dollars. He changed the way syndicated cartoons are published in newspapers but stayed away from the media spotlight himself. When ‘Calvin & Hobbes’ was at its peak, he quit the comic strip and settled into a reclusive life in his home town. As an artist who has lived our modern dichotomy between creativity and commercial cleverness, his sane advice is invaluable for young artists and creators. In this rare public appearance, a commencement speech at his alma mater Kenyon College in 1990, he spoke about finding your voice, selling your soul and living a fulfilled life. Excerpts:

Calvin & Hobbes Dust Speck

SOME THOUGHTS ON THE REAL WORLD BY ONE WHO GLIMPSED IT AND FLED
Bill Watterson, Kenyon College, May 1990

[…] So, what’s it like in the real world? Well, the food is better, but beyond that, I don’t recommend it.

[…] Like many people, I found that what I was chasing wasn’t what I caught. I’ve wanted to be a cartoonist since I was old enough to read cartoons, and I never really thought about cartoons as being a business. It never occurred to me that a comic strip I created would be at the mercy of a bloodsucking corporate parasite called a syndicate, and that I’d be faced with countless ethical decisions masquerading as simple business decisions.

To make a business decision, you don’t need much philosophy; all you need is greed, and maybe a little knowledge of how the game works.

As my comic strip became popular, the pressure to capitalize on that popularity increased to the point where I was spending almost as much time screaming at executives as drawing. Cartoon merchandising is a $12 billion dollar a year industry and the syndicate understandably wanted a piece of that pie. But the more I thought about what they wanted to do with my creation, the more inconsistent it seemed with the reasons I draw cartoons.

Selling out is usually more a matter of buying in. Sell out, and you’re really buying into someone else’s system of values, rules and rewards.

The so-called “opportunity” I faced would have meant giving up my individual voice for that of a money-grubbing corporation. It would have meant my purpose in writing was to sell things, not say things. My pride in craft would be sacrificed to the efficiency of mass production and the work of assistants. Authorship would become committee decision. Creativity would become work for pay. Art would turn into commerce. In short, money was supposed to supply all the meaning I’d need.

What the syndicate wanted to do, in other words, was turn my comic strip into everything calculated, empty and robotic that I hated about my old job. They would turn my characters into television hucksters and T-shirt sloganeers and deprive me of characters that actually expressed my own thoughts.

On those terms, I found the offer easy to refuse. Unfortunately, the syndicate also found my refusal easy to refuse, and we’ve been fighting for over three years now. Such is American business, I guess, where the desire for obscene profit mutes any discussion of conscience.

You will find your own ethical dilemmas in all parts of your lives, both personal and professional. We all have different desires and needs, but if we don’t discover what we want from ourselves and what we stand for, we will live passively and unfulfilled. Sooner or later, we are all asked to compromise ourselves and the things we care about. We define ourselves by our actions. With each decision, we tell ourselves and the world who we are. Think about what you want out of this life, and recognize that there are many kinds of success.

Many of you will be going on to law school, business school, medical school, or other graduate work, and you can expect the kind of starting salary that, with luck, will allow you to pay off your own tuition debts within your own lifetime.

But having an enviable career is one thing, and being a happy person is another.

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.

Further Reading:

  • The Two Types of Creativity on my own struggle with creative integrity and my mentor GD’s spiritual perspective on the same.
  • At Zen Pencils, young cartoonist Gavin has crated a brilliant comic tribute to this speech.
GD Speaks, Journal

Paralysed by Greatness

frozen-man

A few days ago, my brother and mentor GD was talking on the phone about his recent workshop on ‘stuckness’ in life. He felt it was relevant for me to hear about a participant who had topped his class in school and college, and excelled at work. Everyone told him he was destined for greatness. And now, since he had quit his job a year ago, he could not bring himself to start anything new – because it didn’t feel like it was matching his vision of greatness.

I was startled because this was so close to my situation. My school motto was Natus Ad Maiora – Born for Greater Things –and perhaps it had set the tone for my life. I got my name in the top ranks through college and got double-promoted multiple times at my media job. For most of my corporate life, I tried to use every waking minute to live up to my full potential for greatness.

The question GD had asked the participant (and me) was: “Is it possible that your desperation for greatness is your biggest obstacle?”

I was initially taken aback. Without this promise of greatness, I feared wallowing in depression and mediocrity. This conviction gave me hope that all suffering and hard work would be ultimately worthwhile. It inspired me to be patient, to work hard, to stay focused.

But then I remembered that the pressure of this destiny had also become a weapon in the hands of my inner critic who put it to my head every time I tried to begin something new.

Sensing my train of thought, GD continued: “You reject too many things when you ask: is this the great thing I am meant to do? Is this great enough, amazing enough, perfect enough for me? More often than not – the answer seems to be ‘no’. Even if you do push yourself to begin, you work from stress, fear and proving. In life, you don’t always know what is going to turn out great.”

I could sense the deadly seriousness this ironclad demand for ‘greatness’ brings to exploring new ideas. But I still found myself resisting letting go of this belief, which had been my wishing star on many a lonely night.

“Yes, this desire for greatness generates a pleasurable fantasy,” GD said, “but is it really helping you get there? Or is it actually diminishing your real greatness?

“You are already an Awesome Divine Being. But when you try to prove your greatness, you have actually lost sight of it.

“When you operate from the desperation of greatness, you lose sight of whether you are truly enjoying what you are doing. You lose your natural light-heartedness and freedom. You lose contact with spontaneity, with life in the here-now. Often, just doing what feels sensible or fun in this moment can be the beginning of something great!

It reminded me of my father, the national-award winning author and painter Aabid Surti, who has found such unexpected greatness recently with his little idea of fixing taps in his community for free (Read the story here). He didn’t start off trying to become famous or even change the world. It just began with repairing one leaky tap, he says, because it seemed like a good idea. For months afterwards, he didn’t tell anyone he was spending his Sundays fixing leaks in the neighborhood. Five years later, he was invited to accept an award by the President of India. What were the chances that he would find significance in doing something tiny that made him happy rather than waiting and planning for that giant sunburst of glory to appear?

GD concluded: “Instead of being desperate for greatness, choose Presence and Playfulness. Being Present… being Conscious and Aware will guide you effortlessly to your next move. And being playful will ensure that the ego does not take over and corrupt everything.”

GD Speaks, Life-Saving Tips

Wanted: A Life Purpose (*conditions apply)

Waiting for A DirectionSince I let go of my full-time corporate job, every few months, I used to feel dejected that life/god/existence was not showing me my calling, the grand and glorious purpose in life that I had heard and read so much about.

On one such gloomy, rainy day, my mentor GD sat me down and asked me: “What will it look like when you find your calling?” Despite my past experience with his seemingly innocent-sounding questions, I answered that one.

I replied it should be something worthy, inspiring and larger-than-life. “What you are seeking is not your calling,” GD pointed out, “but a new path of ego-gratification.”

Wow. I hadn’t seen that coming.

With just one sentence, my new age/light-worker/eco-warrior ego was crushed like a recycled coca-cola can. So my oh-so-righteous rants to God were just an employee haranguing his boss for a promotion? As I recovered my composure, I asked GD if there was such a thing as a calling or life purpose then?

The way I see it, he said, one’s calling is something that feels simple, natural and spontaneous in this moment. It is not that Existence doesn’t show you your calling, but the mind rejects it insisting that it should look a certain way — that it should be spectacular right from the start. So you are asking God to show you your purpose, but you have a huge asterisk with “CONDITIONS APPLY” below it. And even if tomorrow morning it happened in the spectacular, sudden way you imagine it, it would only create stress and pressure, because it is not a natural flowering.

In every moment, I realized, our calling comes to us like a gentle birdcall, while we wait for the fanfare of a Republic Day Parade.

“We dismiss that little voice because we don’t know where it is leading,” GD added. “Otherwise, this process is already silently in motion. All we need to do is to trust the Universal Flow. Our calling is simply to honor the impulse that is ‘calling’ in this moment.”

*

GD Speaks

The Great Pretenders

One of the recurring feelings I had during my corporate career was the sense of being a fraud who was going to be exposed at any time. It was not because I was stealing money or clients from the company, it was far more subtle – a sense of having overstated one’s talents and clout, promising more than one could deliver and living with a fear of being found out.

Looking around, I realized that this is as common in the world of work as stapler pins. Politicians are constantly overstating their influence, businessmen are overstating their business acumen, celebrities are overstating their stardom. Even spiritual seekers and therapists sometimes pretend to be beyond their evolution. Almost everyone feels pressured to paint and then uphold a false picture of themselves. We don’t join the dots but the inevitable result is a sense of fear that follows us around like a shadow.

The funny thing is that I remember spending many months trying to get rid of this fear using spiritual tools and processes, but nothing seemed to clear it for good. A few hours or days and the fear would creep back into the system in a new guise.

My brother and mentor GD reminded me of this phase of my life on the phone today as he joked: “If we don’t stop creating false impressions, not even God can make our fear go away. Whenever we lie or pretend, there is bound to be fear. The simple way out is to BE and SAY exactly where you stand in this moment. But the ego, which has spent a lifetime trying to cultivate the perfect image and appearance, finds this terrifying. For some of us, being ‘exposed’ is worse than death. Because the false image has slowly become real… it has become ‘me’.”

“Most of us are not even aware of all the places in our life where we are hiding, role-playing, or pretending to be something we really aren’t. But one thing is certain: where there is deception, there will be some kind of anxiety or uneasiness. At those times, this simple question may change the game altogether: What is the truth in this moment that I am not acknowledging?”

As I heard GD speaking, I remembered the old adage: ‘The truth shall set you free’. But I wondered if I have the courage to speak it.

Illustration © Aalif Surti 2012

GD Speaks

The Glorification of Busyness

The glorification of busynessConfession: These days, I sometimes feel guilty about not being busy. After a decade in corporate life, I occasionally lie when someone asks for time to meet – and I tell them we can meet next week, even when all of today lies before me like a blank canvas waiting to be painted.

I seem to be still holding on to the story that busyness equals importance. A ‘crazy busy’ person is in demand. A stressed person is handling important things. A person whose body is crying for attention is actually a martyr for a greater cause of financial profit. And all their ‘complaints’ about busyness are actually membership cards for the elite club of valuable people.

Recently, I met a friend in a beautiful café. While we spoke she was typing e-mails on her laptop and BBMing on her blackberry. I was amused and stopped speaking and watched her. It was almost a minute before she looked up and squinted, trying to recall what we were talking about: “…so you were saying?” I smiled, remembering the days I too pretended to be indispensible.

For some busyness appears to be a way to avoid dealing with the real issues – it doesn’t matter what they are busy with, as long as the mind is occupied till it’s too tired to think at night. Others live scared that if they stop, they will prove their uselessness. So it is glorified as ambition or drive when it is actually terror of facing oneself.

In essence, GD says, busyness is a way to avoid the Black Hole at the center of one’s being. That space which is the exact opposite of everything I try to project when I am trying to be the dynamic, ecstatic, efficient busy person. It is the repository of our sense of loneliness, meaninglessness, uselessness, depression and abandonment. It feels like death to face it because the mind says that once one lets go into it, one can never come out.  So we all spend our lives controlling it, keeping it at bay or running from it.

The beauty is that once you face it, you come to see that it doesn’t exist. The story of failure you were scared about was fuelled by the story of success you are chasing. When you give up one, the other falls away simultaneously. And in the absence of both, there is peace already waiting for you.

Picture used under Creative Commons License via Sean Dreilinger

GD Speaks

The Bear and the Cage

I read a story once about a bear in Germany who was part of a roadside zoo. He was in a cage that was ten feet long and all day he paced inside 10 feet forward and 10 feet back. He was getting old so the zoo sold him to an animal sanctuary. The sanctuary put the bear into a natural habitat and opened the door of the cage. The bear didn’t leave the cage, but still paced back and forth – 10 feet forward and 10 feet back. Finally, to get him out, they lit a fire at the closed end of the cage. The bear came out and they took the cage away. But all he did was pace…10 feet forward and 10 feet back. The story had a sad ending: they had to put the bear down finally. But in our lives, we have a choice to break our old patterns.

Freedom is something we dream about inside cubicle cages or in binding marriages, especially when we consider the frightful prospect of realizing too late that we wasted our life. But coming out appears even more frightening as I realized when I quit a full-time corporate job last year.

Today, when I meet former colleagues and friends, they often tell me that they wish they could do what I did. They believe it’s financial insecurity which is stopping them. I wish I could tell them that it is the fear of facing all those parts of themselves which they are using work to avoid, it is the fear of stepping outside the cage of their comfort zone. And most of all, I wish I could tell them that once you take the first step, it is not scary. On one side of the decision, there appears to be a gigantic wall of panic and logic and practicality, but it is a fake wall – because on the other side there is a sunny expansiveness. It feels like a weight has dropped from your shoulders.

“And the most interesting part,” my mentor GD wanted me to add, “is that it is only the mind’s madness which has dropped – the fear, the fantasies, the projections. The luggage which has been put down was never real in the first place! There is nothing actual to be given up, except the mind’s never-ending game-plan for fulfillment. The mind does not realize that even after forty-fifty years of cleverness and struggle, it has got nowhere. And the only thing it can offer you is a new dream, a new fantasy, a new ride.

Being free is like being a bird in an open sky. There are no paths, no road maps and no rigid agendas. At our Core, we are pure freedom… we are pure exploration and creativity and adventure. Nothing else will satisfy.”

Image Using Creative Commons License from steve loya

Journal, Uncategorized

Superaalifragilistic Celebration!

Here’s a prime example of how little the mind knows. When my mentor GD suggested I write a blog in early 2012, I rejected the idea completely. Amongst my many ‘reasons’ was the fact that no one would be interested. When he brought up the subject again in June, I stopped talking to him for a few days. Fortunately, his inspiration prevailed over my resistance and I posted my first blog on June 30th.

And here we are three months later… Last evening,  superaalifragilistic crossed 10,000 views! Beyond the numbers, I have encountered some amazing new people and re-encountered old friends in a new light. I made a lot of mistakes along the way and continue to learn about clarity, integrity and creativity through the excuse of this blog.

Another piece of ‘woohoo!’ news: one of my favorite early blog posts “10 Mind Strategies for Avoiding Change” has been reproduced as a full-fledged article in the October 2012 issue of Life Positive Magazine! Do check out the magazine if you are in India – or you can subscribe online even if you are not. It is one of the most sincere and widely-read magazines from India dedicated to spirituality and wellness.

In case you would like to revisit the original blog post, you can click here. This post contained superb insights from my mentor GD on how the mind tries to avoid the change we need in our life. It was the most viewed & shared piece on my blog and can be a real life-saver for anyone feeling stuck or at a crossroads in their life…

For all the new friends who have joined us recently along this journey, here’s a recap of some of the most liked and commented articles from the early days.

  1. The Fixer of Polarities – A radical and reassuring take by GD on the ego and its constant preoccupation with fixing everything in Life. I loved the line: “The ego is not a bad, evil thing. It is like a beautiful, faithful dog who has gone neurotic and is now barking at butterflies, the postman, and lamp-post.” This remains the most commented article till date.
  2. Living is Optional – A simple poem about the choices we have in Life resonated with many many people.
  3. Six Things I Have Learnt From a Three-Year-Old – A lovely piece about the life lessons I have learnt from my son, Nirvaan.
  4. Do You Want Another Band Aid? – A strong post on how we use things like jobs and relationships to cover our deep-rooted wounds.
  5. The Numbers Game – A much-loved poem about our obsession with numbers.

Thank you all for being with me on this journey without a destination. For taking the time to read, comment, and share. I don’t know what lies ahead but as GD says: “Let’s see how it unfolds…”

Image courtesy of ddpavumba / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Crossroads Chronicles

Do You Want Another Band Aid?

Often the simplest questions are the most difficult to answer. This innocent-looking question by my spiritual teacher GD stuck with me through a difficult phase in my life. And unlike what it sounds, he wasn’t offering to dress up my emotional wounds and soothe me with feel-good platitudes. He was offering me a choice: ‘do you want another band-aid or do you want to heal the wound?’

I don’t recall the exact conversation but I cannot forget the essence. GD was discussing with a bunch of us how we use jobs and relationships like band-aids to cover our wounds, and how our entire struggle in life is to keep them intact. Beneath clinging to an unfulfilling job, he was explaining, was often the fear of facing a deep-rooted sense of uselessness. Couples cling to unhappy relationships and marriages to avoid loneliness. Some become chronic people-pleasers to avoid the fear of abandonment. Others take up social service with a vengeance to not face their own issues…

It was intriguing and even a bit scary to consider my life through this lens. In normal life, I think I do a pretty good job of keeping all this hidden behind a wall of busyness. And like me, I guess for most people these wounds are exposed only one is either forced to be alone for some time, or when some situation opens the wound with a ripping sound – like being fired or dumped. And when one is at the crossroads, where the uncertainty and sense of being lost (which was temporarily covered up by the job or relationship) comes to the surface again. Like I was at that point.

The joke, GD continued, is that even in the best of times, these band-aids do not work. No amount of money helps a person with a core wound of worthlessness feel rich inside. If a woman believes she is ugly or fat, she just won’t believe any external compliment about her beauty. And the terror of losing these band-aids often runs our life. We believe that the only solution is to hold the band-aid tighter – keep the job or the relationship at any cost – to avoid surfacing this wound. But why not face it and move towards real healing and wholeness?

And if you still want to put on a new band-aid, GD said, then just acknowledge it consciously as your choice. Acknowledging the band-aid as your choice empowers you at some level. But your soul or higher self knows that you are free and infinite, and it will keep creating situations for you where this question will reappear: do you still want another band-aid?

See Also: The 10 Mind-Strategies for Avoiding Change

Poems

Take A Break

I wrote this for a friend who’s consumed with building a business empire, but this could just have been a message to me a few years ago.

Take a break, o working man
If your hours and minutes
were really worth money
you would be a billionaire by now.

Hit a pause, o worried man
If your mind really
held all the answers
you would have finished thinking long ago.

Not your life, my friend:
a day, an hour, just a few minutes
to listen to someone wiser than you
who seems happy all the time.

Look up from your electronic toys:
life has passed in a finger-snap,
what remains will pass
even faster.

Make some time today, my soul-brother,
Let’s meet the wise friend,
who always
has time for us.